Three ways to fix dodger windows
Once again you can see the way ahead
by Barry Hammerberg
|You don't have to be a seamstress to replace a dodger's window plastic. With a little work, the typical sailor can add years of life to a boat's dodger and improve the looks of the boat as part of the bargain. |
If your dodger is a few years old, it may be looking pretty shabby. While the fabric is in good shape and has lots of service life left, the windows are another story. The ones that haven't been cracked by hail or errant genoa sheets are probably scuffed and discolored to the point of being no more than translucent, which makes finding your slip a real challenge.
Short of a new dodger, what are your options? The easiest is to bundle the dodger up and head for your favorite canvas fabricator with checkbook in hand. A cheaper alternative is to do it yourself. If you have access to a sturdy sewing machine, you're in business.
From experience with several dodgers, I believe there is no one best way to replace damaged plastic windowpanes. You need to fit the repair to the situation. I've used three methods successfully. All require basting tape, window material, and a few other items.
Basting tape makes the job easier. I use 3⁄8-inch, double-sided basting tape (Sailrite #659). The replacement window material choices are not as easy. While 0.020-inch material like Sailrite's Plastipane vinyl are easily handled and rolled up, I've found that their 0.030-inch Crystal Clear offers better clarity and strength while still being easy to handle. My preference is 0.030 Strataglass. This material offers the best clarity and the longest service life. Greater thicknesses will make it very difficult to stow the dodger.
I use a polyester thread, such as Sailrite's V-92, designed for outdoor exposure. I use masking tape to attach a 2- to 3-mil polyethylene film to protect the window material. For tracing the window outlines, I use a quilter's erasable marking pen, available at any sewing store. Add a thread stripper and scissors, and you are almost ready to go.
You need space
One more not-so-small detail is adequate workspace. The hardest part of the project is handling the dodger while you sew. You'll need a surface large enough to allow you to lay it out and swing it around as you sew around the perimeter of the windows. The easier it is to reposition the dodger, the straighter your seams will be. I usually spread a poly film on the floor, place the sewing machine on it, and use the floor as my table. I've also set my sewing machine up next to a dining room table or placed a large panel on sawhorses to create an area large enough for working with a dodger.
The following methods differ to address variations in how the original windows were attached and the how the finished repair looks.
This method is often used to cheaply replace damaged windows. While the material cost is the same, it takes the least labor. I don't like this system since it leaves a narrow band of the old material under the dodger fabric around the perimeter of the window. This old material will eventually discolor and may crack. The time to replace five to six panes is about three to four hours.
Lay out the dodger so you can reach the back side of the windows. This usually means you'll be working from the inside of the dodger. Apply basting tape around the perimeter of the existing panes, leaving the release paper on the tape. Place your new window material over each pane and use a quilter's pen to trace the outside edge of the old pane onto the new material (the quilter's pen marking will disappear in a couple of days). At this point, you may want to use masking tape and poly film to protect the new pane from scratches while you are cutting and sewing. Don't tape in the area you will be sewing; tape outside that area. You need to protect only the top surface; the old pane will protect the other side.
Cut your new panes to size and position each over the old pane. Peel off the tape backing and secure the new pane in place. You're ready to sew the new pane over the existing one, sewing through both the new and old layers.
I've found that I have to adjust the sewing machine's thread tension until the knot is embedded in the plastic or between the plastic and the fabric. I use the smallest needle that works (a Number 16 to 18).
After all the new panes have been sewn in place, flip the dodger over and cut out the old pane, using the fabric edge as your guide. A pair of scissors or a thread stripper works for making the cut. The neater the cut, the better your finished job will look.
|Method 2: A Dremel tool with a wire brush cuts the stitching holding the panes in place, at left. Use masking tape to lay out the shape of the opening on the replacement pane to avoid distorting the dodger when the panel is sewn in place, at right. |
|Cut away the corners of the old pane to make it easier to remove the old pane once the new pane has been sewn in, at left. Sew the new pane in place. Note the double-sided tape to the left of the sewing machine head, at right. |
2. Overlay and remove
This second method works best when the old windowpanes overlap the cutout in the fabric by 3/4 inch or more and two rows of stitching were used to hold the pane. If the overlap is less or there is only one seam, use one of the other methods instead. This method holds the fabric in shape and protects one side of the new pane during most of the process. It can take about seven to eight hours to remove and replace six to eight panes in an old dodger using this method.
Working from the inside of the dodger, clip the threads in the seams holding the pane in, but don't tear the seams apart at this point. When a thread stripper doesn't work because the thread is embedded in old vinyl, I've found that a Dremel tool with a narrow wire brush will work well. I've also modified a stripper by removing the sharp point so I can insert it between the window and the fabric to cut the thread without damaging the fabric. Experiment carefully to find the technique that works best for you.
Now pull apart just the outer seam and cut away the portion of old windowpane outside the inner seam. At the corners, cut off material to aid in later pane removal. The inner seam and remaining pane will hold the fabric in shape. Remove any loose threads as they can cause problems when you re-sew. I've found that a vacuum cleaner or duct tape can speed the tedious task of plucking the short threads from the old seam.
Next, apply basting tape to the fabric at the outside edge of the remaining pane material, leaving the release paper in place. Use the quilter's pen to trace the panel. The white release paper makes an easy outline to follow. Mask the exposed surface of the new pane if you want to minimize scuffing (don't tape in the seam area). Cut out the new pane and adhere it in place. You are ready to sew the outer edge seam on the new pane. After the new panes all have the outer seam done, flip the dodger over and tear out the old pane. You'll find that the corners you cut off make it easy to start tearing the panes out. Remove loose threads before sewing the seam along the inside edge of the window. Remove the poly film from the inside of the dodger and admire your work. The dodger will look like new.
3. Remove and replace
This is the method I use when the original windows have a narrow overlap (1/2 inch) on the dodger fabric. It takes more care than the other two methods to ensure that you don't lose the original shape of the window opening. The time to complete the repair is slightly less than the previous method, about six to seven hours for six panes.
Place the new material over the inside of the existing material. Use masking tape to mark the edge of the opening, leaving room for your overlap. Tape a poly film to both sides of the new material to prevent scratching. Using the masking tape as your guide, cut the new pane 1/2 to 1 inch larger than the original window. Cut the old threads and strip out the old pane, taking care to remove loose threads.
Apply basting tape around the window cutout in the dodger, leaving the tape in place (it helps if you pull back about an inch of the paper at the end of each tape for later removal). Carefully align the new pane using the edge of the masking tape and window cutout edge. Pull the basting tape cover off and adhere the new window. Sew the pane in place. Complete each pane before attempting another, since basting tape can take only a limited amount of stress.
Leave the poly film cover in place until all your work is completed. At that point you can strip it off and admire your new outlook.
|Method 3: Use a thread-stripper to cut the threads holding the old pane in place, at left. Apply double-sided basting tape to the dodger to anchor the new pane in place for sewing, center. A vacuum cleaner with a narrow nozzle works well for removing the old threads from the dodger, at right. |
|The author: |
In high school, Barry Hammerberg rebuilt a Snipe and learned to sail. Before too long, he was building fiberglass canoes and kayaks. Midwesterners, he and his wife, Ruth, owned a charter boat in the Florida Keys and have sailed the BVIs and Leeward Islands.